This may be said to suitably follow the Catholic Epistles. In them the last times are in view, and evil is pointed out in connection with the church: then follows this prophecy, the first part of which concerns the church viewed as a lightbearer on earth: rejection awaits it as judgement awaits the world. The Revelation was given to Jesus Christ by God as sovereign ruler. It was signified to John, and he wrote what he saw and heard. It is not known when the book was written, nor by what emperor John was banished to the Isle of Patmos. Some judge that it was Claudius (A.D. 41-54), others Nero (A.D. 54-68), and others Domitian (A.D. 81-96): it is more generally attributed to the last named, and if so, the date of the book would be after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
There are fewer ancient manuscripts of the Revelation than of any other part of the N.T., and some of those now known were not discovered till after the date of the A.V.; this makes the 'various readings' now introduced very numerous, some of them being important.
The book evidently divides itself into three parts: see Revelation 1:19
1. "Things which thou hast seen " — found in Revelation 1 .
2. "Things that are " — namely, the seven specified churches as then existing in Asia, Revelation 2 , Revelation 3 .
3. "Things which shall be after these " — contained in Revelation 4 to the end. It is evident that "after these" refers to the removal of the entire church from earth, and not simply to the disappearance of the seven particular churches named. The whole of the Revelation was addressed to the seven churches (as representing the whole church), though each assembly had also a short address especially to itself.
Revelation 1 . After the introduction, Christ is seen in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, which represent the seven churches as lightbearers. He was like unto the Son of man, clothed, not for service, but for priestly judgement, with eyes like a flame of fire, and feet like brass glowing in a furnace: His countenance as the sun shining in its strength, and proceeding out of His mouth a sharp two-edged sword: nothing can escape His judgement. John, who, when Christ was on earth had leaned on His bosom, seeing Him now in so different an aspect, fell at His feet as dead. The Lord reassures him, telling him that He has the keys of Hades and of death. Christ has seven stars in His right hand, and the stars are the angels of the seven churches, that is, representative, as if the spirit of each church were personified.
Revelation 2 and Revelation 3 contain the addresses to the seven churches: the number seven is symbolical of completeness, and we may thus assume that these churches represented the whole; and, while actually existing at the time, are selected as showing the various features which become successively apparent in the church to the end: the end being made manifest by the presentation of the coming of the Lord to the last four churches. These seven addresses may be described as God's view of the church in its various phases given prophetically.
In the varied conditions of the churches those who have ears are specially addressed, and overcomers are encouraged. An overcomer is one who has faith to surmount the special danger that exists in his day. To each address there are three parts:
1. The presentation of the Lord, which is different in each.
2. His judgement of the state of each assembly.
3. The promise to the overcomers.
1. EPHESUS. From the various mention of this church in the Acts and the Epistles, it is evident that its decline was gradual: cf. Acts 20:29,30
; 1 Corinthians 15:32
; 1 Timothy 1:3
; 2 Timothy 1:15
. The mark discerned by Christ was that it had left its first love. The loss of the true spring and power of devotedness and service characterises the first declension in the church: no one may have observed it but the Lord, yet it is spoken of as a fall , and repentance is called for, or its candlestick would be removed from its place. Historically it represents the church after the departure of the wise master-builder.
2. SMYRNA. Nothing is said here in the way of disapproval; the church is in a time of persecution, and is encouraged by Christ in the midst of it. Persecution may be used to make manifest what is real, and to draw the soul nearer to the Lord. The saints are exhorted to be faithful unto death, and Christ would give them the crown of life. Historically this church represents the period of persecution that set in under Nero. The 'ten days' of Revelation 2:10
may represent ten different persecutions, or refer to ten years' duration of persecution under Diocletian. In any case it gives the idea of limitation.
3. PERGAMOS. We have here very distinct indications of the toleration of evil — first in the allowing those that held the teaching of Balaam, which led to corrupt commerce with the world, and then that there were also those that held the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, hateful to Christ. Historically this church probably represents the period when Christianity was adopted by the world power ("where Satan's seat is"), which led to thousands becoming nominally Christians, and to the incorporation of heathen elements and institutions into the professing church. Satan had altered his tactics, and the dangers were peculiar, but the Lord looked for overcomers.
4. THYATIRA. The evil allowed in this church was systematic and controlling, as indicated by the name of the woman, Jezebel, who called herself 'prophetess.' The result was moral fornication and idolatry; and children were begotten of the system. The attitude of the Lord is severe: His "eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet like fine brass." A 'rest,' or remnant, in this church is recognised and addressed: and the formula "he that hath an ear to hear" occurs henceforth after the promise to the overcomer, indicating that from this point only those who overcome are expected to havean ear to hear what the Spirit says unto the churches. The kingdom is brought into view in the promise to the overcomer. Historically Thyatira represents that phase of the church's history in which the influence of Rome had become predominant in its tyranny, worldliness, and corruption. It is not difficult to identify Jezebel with the great whore of Revelation 17 and Revelation 18 .
5. SARDIS. One very emphatic sentence gives the character of this church: "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead." It was a name that should carry life, but was in Sardis identified with spiritual death. There had been escape from the corruptions of Rome, but the truth in its purifying power was lost. Yet there were a few who had not defiled their garments. The coming of the Lord 'as a thief' reminds us of the character of His coming to the world as seen in 1 Thessalonians 5:2
. Historically Sardis presents Protestantism, after it had lost spiritual power and become worldly and political.
6. PHILADELPHIA. There is nothing of evil charged to this church. Christ presents Himself as "he that is holy, he that is true," and as having the key of administration; and He says, Thou "hast a little strength and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name . . . . hast kept the word of my patience." The Lord Himself has with them the prominent place, and the church is kept out of the hour of tribulation which is coming on the whole earth. The historical development of the church may be said to close with Thyatira; and Philadelphia represents in the latter times of the church's history on earth faithfulness to the Lord Himself, on the part of those who are seeking to stand morally in the truth of the church.
7. LAODICEA. This church is characterised, not by any definite evil either of doctrine or practice, but by pride of acquirement and by self-sufficiency, accompanied with indifference to Christ. While boasting itself in being rich and in need of nothing, it was wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. Man in his self-satisfaction is the main feature, and Christ is not appreciated. It represents the arrogance of rationalism and higher criticism in the latter days of the church on earth: Christ is outside but still appealing, knocking for admission to the individual heart.
Revelation 4 . A different section of the book commences here: namely, "the things that shall be after these," events that will occur after the church has ceased to occupy a place on earth as in Revelation 2 and Revelation 3 . The 'rapture' of the saints has evidently taken place between Revelation 3 and Revelation 4 , for henceforth they are seen in heaven. The apostle is in the Spirit, and the scene is in heaven. John saw a throne that is in relation to the earth; and One sitting on the throne like a jasper and a sardine stone: it is God, but so presented as that He could be looked upon. And on 'thrones' (not 'seats') sat twenty-four elders, the perfect number of the redeemed, sitting, as kingly priests, with crowns on their heads. In the midst of the throne were four living creatures, symbolical of power, firmness, intelligence, and rapidity of execution of God's government, when the throne is once taken: cf. Ezekiel 1 . These celebrate Jehovah Elohim Shaddai thrice holy, and the elders worship their Lord and their God as Creator of all things.
Revelation 5 brings in another element, namely, the sealed book in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne. John, in answer to his weeping, is told that the Lion of the tribe of Judah has overcome to open the book of the counsels of God as to the earth. And when he looked he saw a Lamb as it had been slain, who has the seven spirits of God, and He takes the book. The four living creatures and the elders fall down, and the new song of redemption is sung. The angels declare the worthiness of the Lamb, without mentioning redemption. Then every creature in all the universe speaks out the worthiness of Him that sits upon the throne and of the Lamb for ever and ever.
Revelation 6 The 'book' spoken of in Revelation 5 had seven seals, which are opened consecutively. It is a book of God's judgements, but revealed in symbols. Six of the seals are opened, but before the opening of the seventh seal a parenthetical chapter ( Revelation 7 ) intervenes. It is noticeable that in the first six seals no allusion is made to angels. What are prominent are horses and their riders, which come forth successively at the call of the four living creatures. The horses may represent powers or forces on earth, and the riders, those who control or turn them to account.
First seal. A white horse and its rider with a bow, to whom a crown is given — imperial conquest.
Second seal. A red horse and its rider, who takes peace from the earth, and they shall kill one another — the scourge of civil war.
Third seal. A black horse and its rider with a balance — famine in the necessaries of life with its devastations, but a restraining 'voice' in the midst of it.
Fourth seal. A pale horse and its rider, who kills with God's sore plagues those on a fourth part of the earth: this may be a continent.
Fifth seal. Under the altar are seen the souls of the martyrs (especially those slain during the first half of Daniel's seventieth week: cf. Matthew 24:9
Sixth seal. In the first four seals we have seen forces at work, but controlled; now there is a great earthquake, and the sun, moon, and stars are affected, indicating probably the apostasy, and the break up of the civil governments ordained of God. There is general dismay, and the call for death, in the fear that the great day of the wrath of the Lamb has come; but these are but preliminary judgements.
Revelation 7 . This is parenthetic, describing the sealing of a perfect number of the twelve tribes — the spared ones of Israel; they are sealed for preservation: cf. Romans 11:26
. A great multitude out of all nations also stand before the throne, and ascribe salvation to God and to the Lamb. John is told that they have come out of the great tribulation (not, however, the same as Jacob's trouble,' Jeremiah 30:7
). They are evidently souls converted after the present dispensation of the church, and may not ever have known Christianity.
Revelation 8 . The seventh seal introduces the seven trumpets, which have in them something of the nature of a final summons. The prayers of the saints, presented by an angel distinct from those having the seven trumpets, while fragrant before God, bring, as their consequence, judgements on the earth.
First trumpet. Human prosperity in the third part of the Roman empire is burnt up.
Second trumpet. A great mountain burning with fire is cast into the sea — some great earthly power influences the masses with direful effect, and commercial intercourse is affected: cf. Jeremiah 51:25
; it may correspond to the fall of Babylon in Revelation 17 , Revelation 18 .
Third trumpet. A great star falls — some great power from above — and corrupts the moral sources.
Fourth trumpet. The governmental powers are disorganised and in darkness. A great eagle (as is now read by the editors, instead of 'angel'), cries, "Woe, woe, woe" on those who make the earth their home. The scene of the judgements of this chapter is the West.
Revelation 9 . The Fifth trumpet. A star — one in power — falls from heaven: moral darkness and Satanic influence follow. There is feigned righteousness, but the actors are cruel, deceptive, and bitter. This judgement is directed against the Israelites that have not the seal of God.
Sixth trumpet. Forms of wickedness, led by Satan, hitherto held in check in the East, are let loose. The third part of men are killed by plagues. What is referred to is probably moral death. And those that are not killed do not repent of their deeds. The mention of the Euphrates shows that the judgements of this chapter arise from the East.
Revelation 10 to end of Revelation 11:13
, is a parenthesis, before the seventh trumpet.A mighty angel, probably Christ from the description, plants his feet upon (that is, claims) the sea and earth, and cries with a great voice to which the thunders respond. He has an open book, evidently bringing us to known prophetic ground, and declares that "There shall be no longer delay" (as Revelation 10:6
should read). John eats the book as bidden, and while he finds it sweet to know what God has revealed, it is bitter to reflect on His judgements.
In Revelation 11 John is told to measure the temple and the altar and the worshippers, that is, all that is real. They are now taken account of; but not the court without, that is, Jewish profession — the external system. The holy city will be trodden under foot of the nations 42 months, the latter half of Daniel's seventieth week. God's two witnesses prophesy 1,260 days (the same half week). It is now a question of Christ's rights to the earth. The witnesses manifest His power, and smite the earth with plagues. The beast (the Roman power of Revelation 17:8
) kills the witnesses, and they lie unburied, but they are called up to heaven, and there is in the same hour a great upheaval on earth.
. The second woe is past, and the third woe cometh.
The Seventh trumpet. The world-kingdom of Jehovah and His Christ is come. The heavenly company give thanks to the Lord God Almighty who has taken His great power and has reigned. His wrath has come and the time of recompense. The general history of the book ends with Revelation 11:18
. Certain details follow exhibiting the full ground for the final pouring out ofwrath, the judgement of the great whore, and the coming of Christ to make war in righteousness. The time of judging the dead is announced here.
Revelation 12 . Revelation 11:19
commences another division of the book, taking us back in thought to the birth of Christ, from which this development starts. The temple of God was opened in heaven, the ark of His covenant was seen there, and there were judgements on earth. A woman (Israel) is seen as a sign in heaven, and brings forth a man child (Christ), whom Satan seeks at once to devour, but the child is caught up to God and to His throne. The woman flees into the wilderness, and is nourished by God 1,260 days — last half-week of Daniel. There is war in heaven, and the devil is cast out, which causes great exultation in heaven. The devil casts a flood (people) after the woman, but it is swallowed up by the earthly organisations of men. He is angry with the woman and sets himself to make war with the pious remnant of her seed.
Revelation 13 . The Roman empire is now seen as a beast, rising out of the sea, the unorganised mass of the Gentile people. This is the second element in the trinity of evil. It embraces ten kingdoms. One of its heads had been wounded to death; that is, in one epoch of its history it had been slain, but it lived again. The dragon gives to the beast his power and throne and great authority, and it continues 42 months — the last half of Daniel's seventieth week. It blasphemes God, and the dwellers on earth worship it. In Revelation 13:11
another beast is seen to arise out of the earth (formed organisation): it appears as a lamb, but speaks as a dragon. It deceives all the earth and assists the Roman power, working miracles in order that the image of the revived beast may be worshipped: cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10
. This is the man of sin, the Antichrist. The number of the Roman beast is 666, the significance of which will be understood in that day. We have thus the trinity of evil arrayed against God and His Christ.
Revelation 14 . This gives a view of what God is doing during the above evil transactions. The Lamb is seen on mount Zion, and with Him a hundred and forty-four thousand, who learn the heavenly song. There is then a succession of angels, one of whom flies in mid heaven, having the everlasting gospel for all nations, crying, "Fear God, and give glory to him:" for the hour of judgement has come. Another announces the fall of Babylon. A third warns against worshipping the beast or receiving his mark. A voice from heaven announces a blessing on the dead from that time, which is confirmed by the Spirit. One then, like the Son of man, on a cloud, reaps the earth, the harvest of which is ripe. The vintage of the earth is gathered by another angel, and the winepress trodden, blood coming from it reaching to sixteen hundred furlongs, the extent of Palestine.
Revelation 15 , Revelation 16 . These form another division of the book. Revelation 15 shows the blessedness of those victorious over the beast and his image and number, and recounts their song. It presents also the coming out of the seven angels from the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony, having the seven vials, or bowls, of the wrath of God. In Revelation 16 they are bidden to go forth and pour out the vials. This is evidently different from all that has gone before.
The first vial brings grievous miseries.
Second vial. Moral death is upon the sea — the people.
Third vial. This is poured out upon the rivers and fountains — channels and sources of influence and action.
Fourth vial. Poured upon the sun — supreme authority.
Fifth vial. Poured upon the throne of the beast, his kingdom becomes chaos.
Sixth vial. Poured upon the great river Euphrates, opening up the way for the eastern hordes. A trinity of evil spirits goes forth to gather the kings of the earth to the battle of the great day of Almighty God at Harmagedon — mount of Megiddo: cf. Judges 5 .
Seventh vial. This is poured on the air. There is an unprecedented break up of communities, and fall of imperial centres; and great Babylon is remembered before God for wrath. Direct final judgements fall from God out of heaven, but produce only blasphemy on the part of men.
Revelation 17 , Revelation 18 . A vision concerning the great harlot, which may be identified with Jezebel (in the address to Thyatira) and from the description given, may be recognised as the Romish Papal system, is brought under the notice of John by one of the angels of the seven last plagues. The woman is seen riding the beast (the revived Empire), but she is drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs of Jesus. In Revelation 17:8
the beast is described, after its period of non-existence, as reappearing in Satanic power. Seven kings, heads or forms of government, are spoken of, of which five were fallen, one existed, and one was still to come, remaining but a little while. The beast, the final form, is the eighth, but morally of the seven, and goes into destruction. See ROMAN EMPIRE. They make war with the Lamb, but He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and overcomes them. The use to which God turns the power of the last form of the Roman Empire is the destruction of the harlot. Revelation 18 gives the lamentations of various classes and orders over the fall of the great and splendid city, under the form of which the harlot is portrayed.
Revelation 19 . There is joy in heaven because the judgement of the harlot is accomplished. Its day being over, the marriage of the Lamb is come and His wife is ready. In Revelation 19:11
to Revelation 20:3
is presented a vision of the Lord coming forth in warrior judgements He is seated on a white horse, and His saints follow with Him. He comes to smite the nations. He is manifested as King of kings and Lord of lords. The Roman beast and the Antichrist are cast alive into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20 . Satan is cast into the abyss (not into the lake of fire yet) for a thousand years. Thrones and judgement committed to those sitting on them and the 'souls' of those martyred (cf. Revelation 6:9-11
), and of those killed during the time of the beast (cf. Revelation 13:7,15
-17 ), are seen. Such are raised to life, and reign with Christ a thousand years. (See MILLENNIUM.) This is the first resurrection; but the rest of the dead — the wicked — are not raised until the thousand years are expired. After this, Satan is loosed for a little season and deceives the nations: they come up and compass the camp of the saints, but fire comes down and devours them. Satan is cast into the lake of fire. The dead stand before the great white throne to be judged according to their works. (See JUDGEMENT, SESSIONAL.) Death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire. "Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
Revelation 21 . Revelation 1-8 speak of the eternal state, when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. The holy city, new Jerusalem, comes down from heaven as a bride adorned for her husband. The title 'the Lamb,' and all dispensational names have disappeared: God is all in all. In Revelation 21:9
the narrative returns to furnish certain details connected with the kingdom. The bride is shown to John (as had been the harlot) by one of the angels that had the seven last plagues, in the glories that distinguish her as the seat of heavenly light and rule. The holy city comes down out of heaven from God. Her security is in her high wall and gates. On the gates are the names of the twelve tribes of Israel: cf. Matthew 19:28
. The work of the twelve apostles is recognised by their names in the foundation: cf. Ephesians 2:20
. The city is resplendent with divine glory, and answers every requirement of righteousness. Its glory is reflected, as shown by the reference to precious stones. The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple: the glory of God lightens the city, and the Lamb is the light-bearer. No evil can enter there: only those written in the Lamb's book of life. The throne of God and the Lamb is there, from which issues a river of life.
Revelation 22 . In Revelation 22:1-5
the tree of life is seen in the city yielding its fruits and its leaves for the healing of the nations. The servants of the Lamb enjoy His presence, and reign for ever and ever.
are a conclusion to the book. The angel declares the truth of the prophecies. Jesus adds, "Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book." The sayings were not to be sealed, for the time was near: cf. Daniel 12:4,9
. When the testimony is closed, man's state is unalterable. Christ is coming with His rewards, to render to every one as his work shall be. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end — Jehovah. Those who have washed their robes, eat of the tree of life, and have right to enter by the gates into the city: the defiled and idolaters are outside.
The Lord closes the book, saying simply "I Jesus," speaking personally rather than officially. The Spirit and the bride on their part say, "Come;" and he that heareth is invited also to say, Come; and there is then an appeal to him that is athirst and to whosoever will to take the water of life freely. A solemn warning is given as to maintaining the prophecy in its integrity and completeness. The last words of the Lord Himself are "Surely I come quickly." To which John responds, "Amen, come, Lord Jesus." The closing salutation is "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints."